Frank Miller’s comically bad rant

December 8, 2011

A rant against the Occupy movement by graphic novelist Frank Miller shows how out of touch he is with his supposed audience, write Brit Schulte and Matt Camp.

IT'S DIFFICULT to decide where to begin picking apart graphic novelist Frank Miller's "argument" against the Occupy movement. One could begin with the blatant racism and Islamophobia, or perhaps the anti-poor, pro-militarist language--maybe even Miller's sentence structure, as it lacks any coherence. In any case, Miller fancies himself a political commentator, ergo he necessitates an equally political response. To quote the Thing from Fantastic Four, "It's clobberin' time!"

Miller is the graphic novelist best known for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300. He was also a producer of the movie version of 300--a tale of the "heroic" battle of some supposed 300 Spartans against the much larger forces of Xerxes of Persia at the Battle of Thermopylae. Recently, Miller attacked the Occupy movement on his website, labeling it, among other things, "nothing but a pack of louts, thieves and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness."

If you combine all of those who have been arrested defending Occupy Chicago, we number just over 300 persons. We were arrested on two separate weekends while peacefully assembled, invoking our First Amendment rights, and protesting the economic and social inequality in our country. We had democratically made a decision, two weeks in a row, to attempt to set up and hold an encampment in Chicago's Grant Park. There was lengthy debate and dissent, and General Assemblies were kept on-point and rousing during these discussions.

Frank Miller
Frank Miller

We say all of this because, interestingly enough, none of our experiences--or any gleaned from the reports of other Occupy activists around the globe--reflects Frank Miller's ridiculous account even slightly.

MILLER WRITES, "This is no popular uprising. This is garbage. And goodness knows they're spewing their garbage--both politically and physically--every which way they can find."

This assessment, if you can call it that, is absolutely bunk. The Occupy movement is comprised of teachers, veterans, students, journalists, computer programmers, baristas, bus drivers and many other workers, both union and non-union, and many with multiple jobs. And, yes, our movement includes the unemployed--because if Miller hasn't noticed, the national unemployment rate has doubled since the start of the Great Recession.

We are the 99 percent--so, yeah, that means that some of us have been through the corrupt prison system. But violence is never tolerated in our movement, and it is incorrect to call us anything but peaceful, democratic hubs of protest and direct action.

If Miller wants to see "rapists" in Chicago, he can head down to the 23rd District police station and meet Officers Paul Clavijo and Juan Vasquez, who were indicted in early June on charges of sexual assault and rape after allegedly attacking a woman while on duty.

Miller doesn't stop there. He goes on to spew:

"Occupy" is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the "movement"--HAH! Some "movement," except if the word "bowel" is attached--is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad-wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.

So according to Miller, we Occupiers are simultaneously spoiled youths and old enough to remember what longing for Woodstock feels like? Holy Toledo, batty-man, what is Miller talking about?

As activists, we were bound to use the existing means of communication to disseminate our message of peaceful dissent against the inequitable status quo from the onset. We "losers" are going "back to [our] momma's basements" (as Miller puts it) because we're over $50,000 in student loan debt, can't find work and have to take care of dad because his company just made some cutbacks to health care benefits--and while we're there, we'll go ahead use Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to slam this unjust economic system.

If that's not bad enough, Miller also alludes to a dark, vicious "other" chomping at the heels of an unwary America: "Wake up, pond scum. America is at war with a ruthless enemy...And this enemy of mine –not yours apparently--must be getting a dark chuckle--if not an outright horse laugh--out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle."

We got quite an eyeful of Miller's concept of this supposed "enemy"--our brothers and sisters half-a-world away--in the graphic novel 300 and its 2006 film adaptation. Both are a blatantly racist depiction of Persians and a willfully ignorant portrayal of the Spartans as nobly macho. Never mind that Sparta, as sci-fi author David Brin points out, was a vicious slave-owning society and that Sparta's 300 soldiers actually fought against the Persians at Thermopylae alongside thousands of others--including hundreds of helot slaves they pressed into service on the front lines.

Miller can keep the blatant Orientalist stereotypes and curmudgeonly goblins all to himself. While he comforts himself with such sick fantasies, the Occupy movement is being inspired by the people's struggle that has broken out across the Middle East and North Africa.

Here in Chicago, we had our own "300"--the 300 activists who faced arrest hoping to ensure that our occupation had a home. Brave women and men stood up to local tyrant Rahm Emanuel's command to simply "obey" and then flung back at his feet their rights to free speech and assembly.

Maybe it's a stretch to compare those activists to Spartan leader Leonidas and his 300, whom Miller erroneously credits with "saving democracy" by delaying a Persian emperor's advance on ancient Greece, but the association is somewhat valid. If the Ancient Greeks gave us democracy, then Occupy is reinventing it--restoring it from the idolatry of finance and building upon a participatory democratic tradition (this time without all the slavery--chattel, wage or otherwise). And Occupiers will defend that project from all villains, be they Rahm Emanuel...or Frank Miller.

PERHAPS WE can admit to a moment of disquiet when pop idol Miley Cyrus (no relation to the founder of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great) came out in support of the Occupy movement, while Miller spat invective all over it. Then again, let's face facts: Miller's slurs are nothing new. In the meantime, we know who our friends are, and kudos to Miley Cyrus for giving pop music some much-needed social consciousness.

Even more credit goes to Alan Moore, the graphic novelist responsible for V for Vendetta and Watchmen, among other titles. In response to Miller's rant, Moore recently stood up in defense of the Occupy movement and against Miller's "1 percent" politics:

Frank Miller is someone whose work I've barely looked at for the past 20 years. I thought the Sin City stuff was unreconstructed misogyny, 300 appeared to be wildly ahistoric, homophobic and just completely misguided. I think that there has probably been a rather unpleasant sensibility apparent in Frank Miller's work for quite a long time...I heard about [Miller's] latest outpourings regarding the Occupy movement. It's about what I'd expect from him...

As far as I can see, the Occupy movement is just ordinary people reclaiming rights, which should always have been theirs. I can't think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it; they've certainly not been punished in any way because they're too big to fail.

I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who's too big to fail. It's a completely justified howl of moral outrage, and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, nonviolent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I'm sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he'd be more in favor of it. We would definitely have to agree to differ on that one.

As far as Occupy goes, Bat Chick had it right in The Dark Knight Strikes Again when she said, "We're looking at a seismic cultural shift here, with profound political consequences." And let's go ahead and admit that there's a contradiction in taking inspiration from the same pen that is attempting to poison our movement. Or maybe Miller should take a close look at his own text about youth revolting against tyrants.

Regardless, Occupy is what we've been waiting for--our own sense of power and a seismic cultural shift from the politics of the 1 percent to those of the 99 percent. The shift is profound--and it is here to stay.

Further Reading

From the archives